Television was a big luxury in those days and we had just bought it. I was a small kid of 7-8 years. I had seen India beating Pakistan in the finals of Champions’ trophy in Australia a couple of years ago. Till the day I am talking about, India had never lost to Pakistan at a neutral venue. I remember watching the match right from start and cheering for India in front of my black & white 14” television. But the only live action I still have fresh in my memories was the moment which went on to haunt India for almost a decade and a half or even more. Yeah, it was the famous last ball six by Javed Miyandad of Chetan Sharma which won them the Sharjah Cup. That very moment inexplicably changed everything between India-Pakistan ties. From there on all I remember that a loss to Pakistan in an ODI was expected with inevitability and accepted with our inability to beat them. No matter what the situation of the match was, some Salim Malik will appear from nowhere and score the faster 50 in ODIs at that point of time to score 72 of last 6 over’s or a mediocre pair of batsmen in form of Manjoor Ilahi and Salim Yousuf snatch victory from the jaws of defeat in Sharjah. We mostly played Pakistan in Sharjah because we couldn’t play at each other’s den anywhere else due to political scenario in the sub continent. This doesn’t include other neutral venues like world cup in 1992 when we beat them with respectable margin and we still maintain the “all-won” record against them in world cups. But this victory was an exception as a rule.
I remember sprinting back from school to my home to see the famous Indo-Pak rivalry on a cricket field which mostly ended in capitulation from India. Another strange coincidence was – our inability to win against them on Fridays. Either the match would be one sided our hopes to win would be killed by some extraordinary performances like Aqib Javed’s 7 wicket haul which included a hat-trick. We complained about umpiring. We complained about the venues. We complained about our own team’s mental strengths. But we could not win. Finally we avoided playing in Sharjah which, at one point of time, had the record of hosting most number of ODIs thanks to the huge number of Indo-Pak ties hosted there. As soon as India stopped playing there, its ranking in the list of top venues hosting cricket ties started slipping drastically. India – Pakistan were playing more regularly and at each other’s home now and this also helped killing Sharjah as a cricket venue apart from its controversial connections.
More regularly we played; more was the dilution of intensity of these ties (especially from the viewer’s perspective). It’s become so regular that we would be playing against each other in a series for the third time in last 7-8 months. I know if we loose to them today, we can thrash them in this month in a different tournament.
Our record has also improved against Pakistan significantly. We have won 8 out of last 11 matches we have played against them. The current team seems to have come out of the trauma of that last ball six because most of them weren’t old enough to remember it and some of them were not even born. For them, Miyandad is not a miraculous tormentor to our bowlers but just a retired cricketer who keeps fighting to get the post of the coach for Pakistan. They do not have to face a “can bowl 6 balls in 12 ways” Wasim Akram or a “will certainly fracture your toe by his Yorkers” Waqar Younis or a “guest bowler invited to play against India as he bowls well only against them” Aquib Javed. The bowlers are not haunted by Pakistan’s “India Specialist” batsmen like Sayed Anwar or Ijaj Ahmed or Salim Malik. The current generation of players is not haunted by ghosts either as seen in last 80s and 90s. To me, this transformation started with the emergence of Sourav Ganguly in Sahara Cup’97. We lost by 3-2 in 96, won by 4-1 next year. Since then a match against Pakistan has not been a certain defeat. We didn’t win regularly but we didn’t loose before the toss either. It was getting a bit on even keel. They lost in 1999 world cup also although Wasim Akram (their captain) claimed to be taking this match as a practice match.
The next crucial juncture came in 2003 world cup. Pakistan had two old W’s and a very fast Akhtar. India had the best team they have played in World Cup as long as my memories go. If in 90s we capitulated at 180 odd against their 270 plus scores, in 2003 we chased it with perfection. If in 90s our openers simply surrendered to their pacers before no four could pad up, in 2003 Sachin Tendulkar massacred them. If in 90s our middle order thought they would never reach the target even if the openers gave a decent start, in 2003 Rahul Dravid/ Yuvraj Singh sailed through without even hinting to be in trouble even once.
Since then, India has beaten them in Pakistan by 3-2 in 2004. Very next year India lost to them in India by 4-2. In 2006, India defeated Pakistan by 4-1 in the most one sided manner and won the home series again by 3-2 comprehensively. I am not counting the series played else where like India lost to Pakistan in ICC Knockout trophy.
Today we play them again. Pakistan look a depleted side but every side does when they are loosing. Their officials have given them a thrashing which looks like more of a motivational tool. Do not be surprised if they look a different side today. Do not be surprised if India looks a different side today as we have the habit of slipping when on top.
But as of now, with exactly one hour to go for the match, India is the clear favourite. Most probably they will prove why. Even if they do not, at least they seem to have recovered from the ghost of that last ball six.